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John Kasich’s Utterly Strange, Bizarre Campaign

Can a political insider really run as a political outsider?

John Kasich has insisted he is challenging the establishment and running as an outsider. But his support has come primarily from Republican pragmatists. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
John Kasich has insisted he is challenging the establishment and running as an outsider. But his support has come primarily from Republican pragmatists. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

If you like John Kasich, it’s time to celebrate! The Ohio governor finally won a primary – his home state’s. Of course, he flopped in last week’s other contests, ending the evening with almost two dozen fewer delegates than Sen. Marco Rubio, who exited the GOP race.

Kasich’s campaign has bordered on the bizarre. He has survived for two reasons: First, he has refused to get out, no matter how badly he has done. And second, he has been so irrelevant that nobody attacked him, leaving him generally unscathed in a race where there is plenty of blood on the floor.

Initially, Kasich’s candidacy was built on doing well in New Hampshire. And he did – if you call drawing 15.8 percent of the vote there “doing well.” But in finishing second, almost 20 points behind the winner, Donald Trump, Kasich could claim relevance – even though he would not win his first primary for another five weeks.

Let’s be clear: John Kasich cannot win enough delegates during the primary process to be a factor in the race for the GOP nomination. He hopes that a deadlocked convention will turn to him as someone who could beat Hillary Clinton and save the party from having to nominate either Donald Trump or Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, neither of whom is beloved by party loyalists.

When the primary process ends on June 7, the Ohio Republican will have only a relative handful of delegates, and Cruz will be the main alternative to Trump, assuming the reality TV host falls short of the 1,237 delegates needed for the nomination.

Given Kasich’s logic, Rubio, Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee and Rand Paul all should have stayed in the race, since each of them had at least one delegate. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker might as well return to the race, since he is still undefeated.

Kasich’s decision to stay in a race in which he has so far failed to make a mark outside his home state led National Review editor Rich Lowry to say Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” that “Kasich is playing a selfish and delusional role.”

Rubio was pretty clear about his views, as well. After his Florida defeat, he traveled to Minnesota to thank his supporters, urging them to support Cruz, since he is “the only conservative left in the race.”

Kasich’s campaign has been dogged by the ultimate contradiction this year: He has insisted he is challenging the establishment and running as an outsider. And yet, Kasich’s support has come primarily from Republican pragmatists who like his relatively moderate positioning or see him as the most electable.

In Ohio, Kasich campaigned with Romney, who urged state voters to cast their ballots for the governor as part of a stop-Trump strategy. Certainly that indicated Kasich was the choice of the GOP establishment, didn’t it?

Of course not, says Kasich, who often refers to his service in the House but insists that the establishment fears him.

Just don’t look behind the curtain, because if you do, you will see that Kasich’s supporters and advisers include party establishment types like consultant Charlie Black, former Minnesota congressman Vin Weber, long-time party strategist Stu Spencer, former Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott, former New Hampshire Sen. John Sununu and New Hampshire veteran GOP operative Tom Rath.

There is nothing wrong with that team, except that it was the establishment before anyone was complaining about “the establishment.”

Conservatives really don’t trust Kasich. He expanded Medicaid in the state while most Republican governors refused to do so, and he botched an effort to squeeze public sector unions, as Walker did in the Badger State. And, of course, Kasich still has his long list of endorsements and kind words from liberal editorial writers and opinion columnists, who have long seen him as the only reasonable Republican in the GOP race. (In Congress, Kasich voted for an assault weapons ban).

Kasich talks repeatedly about his successes as governor, including his overwhelming re-election. And it’s true, he was re-elected easily. Of course, that’s what happens when your Democratic opponent is caught in a car in a parking lot at 4:30 a.m. with a woman who is not his wife. And it didn’t hurt Kasich that his opponent’s party essentially disowned its nominee, thereby allowing the governor to run for re-election against a political cadaver.

The Ohio governor is running a “positive” campaign. He wants to bring America together again. Well, that’s a novel idea. I hadn’t heard that before. Of course, Kasich’s strategy caused him to avoid taking on Trump, leaving the dirty work to other GOP candidates with more courage. Only now, very late in the game, has the Ohio hopeful been explicitly critical of Trump.

Whatever you think of Kasich, his strategy has worked, at least to a degree. He is one of only three Republicans still in the race. Now, if he could only win a race here and there, he might even justify his continued candidacy.

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